News The world's most loved movies

The world's most loved movies

Box-office records aren't the preserve of Hollywood blockbusters. We asked Guardian writers around the world to tell us about their countries' biggest homegrown hits ...

South Africa

Mr Bones 2: Back from the Past
Dir: Gray Hofmeyr, 2008

When a TV broadcaster ran a public vote on the 100 greatest South Africans of all time, the winner was no surprise. But lower down the list, two heroes of the anti-apartheid movement, Oliver Tambo and Albert Luthuli, trailed in behind a white comedian. Leon Schuster is the man who beat them, and is the creator of the country's most wildly popular films. Mr Bones grossed $33m on its release in 2001, a record for a homegrown movie surpassed only by its sequel, Mr Bones 2: Back from the Past, which has taken $35m since its release last year, despite being derided by critics for being crude and scatalogical. In a breakthrough unheard-of for domestic film-makers, the Mr Bones titles have enjoyed more success at the South African box office than Hollywood series blockbusters The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Only Titanic, with $40m, has ever grossed more.

The main reason for the films' success is Schuster himself, an Afrikaans funnyman who plays a royal witch doctor in the slapstick comedies. Gray Hofmeyr, director and co-writer of the Mr Bones films, says: "Their success is very much around the brand and personality of Schuster. You don't know how or why some people manage to touch the national psyche like this."

Cinema in South Africa has historically been a white activity, with multiplexes located in middle-class shopping malls and black people priced out. But according to Hofmeyr, Schuster has gradually reached beyond an Afrikaans audience to appeal to Asians, mixed-race people and, more recently, black cinemagoers. "With the last two films, he completely took the black audience; 70% of that audience probably didn't see another film all year," says Hofmeyr.

"The character Mr Bones is a white witch doctor in a black tribe. At first we thought, 'Oh no, this is going to be so politically incorrect.' But black people didn't give a damn - they thought it was hilarious." Like Britain's Mr Bean, Mr Bones's physical comedy and toilet humour seem able to leap cultural fences. Hofmeyr, who worked for the BBC in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, says: "It has crossed all boundaries, with the exception of the snobs. Children especially seem to love it and they take their families with them." David Smith


Laskar Pelangi / Ayat-Ayat Cinta
Dir: Riri Riza, 2008 / Hanung Bramantyo, 2008

Two Indonesian films hit the country's screens within months of each other last year and smashed all previous box-office records. Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) and Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors) were two very different movies, but each built on the huge success of two Indonesian novels that racked up scores of reprints between them.

Laskar Pekangi is a heartwrenching but uplifting yarn about the plight of 10 boys at school on a poor Sumatran island, told with a wit and pathos that attracted more than 4 million cinemagoers.

Ayat-Ayat Cinta was more daring for a predominantly Muslim country of 240 million, even though it was just pipped at the box office: it is a modern Islamic love story that explores polygamy. Fahri goes to Egypt to study the Koran, where he is pursued by four women; he chooses one, Aisha. But when Fahri is falsely accused of rape, the only person who can prove his innocence is one of the women he rejected, Maria. Aisha begs him to take Maria, a Christian, as a second wife. Fahri goes along with the plan, but then struggles to be fair to both wives.

Ayat-Ayat Cinta reflects how writers and directors are responding to the end of authoritarian rule in Indonesia. Religion and polygamy are hot topics in Indonesian society, but until quite recently, a film that dealt with them would have been censored. Ayat-Ayat Cinta's director, 33-year-old Hanung Bramantyo, was keenly aware of the western perception of Islam as a radical and intolerant religion that spawns terrorism, and he hoped to change those attitudes while creating a realistic and modern portrayal of Islam for the domestic audience.

"A story of love will always be something that will grab audiences anywhere," he says. "But until now Islamic movies in Indonesia rarely addressed love, let alone polygamy. Yet I think these were the very things that made audiences love Ayat-Ayat Cinta. It has opened up a new vein for Indonesian audiences. It's a homegrown film - an Islamic film - that speaks not only about sin and merit, heaven and hell, but also about love. In future I think producers can be more optimistic that local audiences will go to the cinema to watch Indonesian movies." Ian McKinnon


El Crimen de Padre Amaro
Dir: Carlos Carrera, 2002

Far and away Mexico's biggest Mexican film over the last decade is a tale of sex and other sins in the Catholic church, called El Crimen de Padre Amaro, or The Crime of Father Amaro. It stars Gael García Bernal as a young priest who persuades his even younger pregnant lover to have the backstreet abortion that kills her. The couple also have sex under a cloak emblazoned with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. And Father Amaro's superior (who is also having an affair with the girl's mother) is shown trying to cover up the scandal and taking money from drug traffickers.

Director Carlos Carrera is proud of his film, but he freely admits that what attracted 5.2 million people into Mexican cinemas to watch it was the church's attempt to get it banned. "They tried to treat the Mexican public like children and so the public went to the film, just to prove them wrong. It was an act of rebellion," Carrera says. "They did the film a great favour."

El Crimen de Padre Amaro was loosely adapted from a 19th-century Portuguese novel, and was released just two years after the fall of one-party rule in Mexico. The old regime's deep roots in anticlericalism, which included hanging priests from trees in the 1920s, meant the bishops' power was curtailed under the one-party system. The arrival of a new government in 2000, headed by a conservative Catholic president, tempted the church to test how much things had changed.

But when the government rejected the calls to censor the film, a public backlash ensured that El Crimen de Padre Amaro played to sold-out houses on the weekend of its release. Gushing reviews then flowed from the keyboards of leftwing critics, which gave the film box-office momentum for several weeks more. The result was that Father Amaro became the local standard bearer of the new wave of Mexican cinema - one whose greatest expression outside Mexico was in the likes of Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También. While those much more inventive films won the awards at international film festivals, at home they were no competition for a wayward priest. Jo Tuckman


Eskimo Limon
Dir: Boaz Davidson, 1978

Israeli film-makers have recently produced a series of extraordinary movies exploring their country's wartime history and fraught relations with its Arab neighbours. Films such as The Band's Visit (which has taken more than $3m in the US alone), Waltz With Bashir and Beaufort have all rightly won acclaim in Israel and abroad.

But the film that has proved the biggest commercial success in Israel is a less edifying hit called Eskimo Limon, made in 1978. The film sold 1.3m tickets at the box office, according to the Israeli government's film department. Eskimo Limon, named after a flavour of Popsicle once sold in Israel, is set in the 1950s and tells the story of three schoolboys, Bentzi, Momo, and Yuda'leh, and their first sexual encounters as they grow up in Tel Aviv. The title is sometimes translated into English as Lemon Popsicle, though its US title, Going All the Way, perhaps better catches the direction of the plot: with its 1950s American soundtrack, it was heavily influenced by American Graffiti.

"Eskimo Limon was a little bit retro, with memories of an idealised childhood back in the 50s. It was a smash hit as soon as it was released," says Yehuda Stav, film critic for Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper for the last 35 years. "It had a lot of Israeli mythologies that were still known and recognised, about the way we were brought up with Zionist ideals, about our mothers, the Jewish so-called Polish mothers who were so worried about us and what we were doing. Some mysterious chemistry just made it a very good comedy."

However, Stav says the true identity of Israel's greatest commercial film success is often disputed. One possible rival is another 1976 release, Halfon Hill Doesn't Answer. Also a farce, this told the story of three Israeli reservist soldiers posted in the Sinai desert close to the Egyptian border. The film is a series of comic sketches in the desert but ends with a touching call for negotiations and peace between Israel and Egypt - this just three years after the Yom Kippur war and three years before a peace treaty was signed between the countries. "It was a wonderful farce, but it also shot arrows that went directly into Israeli hearts at that time," said Stav. "It became a cult hit. People still quote the film's dialogue today." Rory McCarthy


Ironiya Sudby: Prodolzhenie
Dir: Timur Bekmambetov, 2002

Three famous actors, two heartthrobs, a cult classic and Russia's most successful post-Soviet director: hardly a recipe for failure. Released in the final days of 2007, Ironiya Sudby: Prodolzhenie (The Irony of Fate: The Sequel) grossed $18m in its first 10 days and racked up $50m in total, making it the biggest box-office success in Russian history. Even though it was not released outside Russia and five former Soviet republics, the film was practically guaranteed to break records inside the old Soviet Union.

The original Irony of Fate was released on 1 December 1975, and is as much a fixture of holiday TV schedules in Russia as The Wizard of Oz or The Great Escape are in Britain. It told the tale of a group of friends meeting for a vodka-sodden evening on New Year's Eve at a bathhouse in Moscow. Two of the group pass out, and the others, drunk, cannot remember which of the pair is supposed to be boarding a flight for Leningrad. By mistake, they put the wrong one on the flight. Still three sheets to the wind, Zhenya arrives in Leningrad and gives a taxi a driver his Moscow address, only to be taken to a high-rise with exactly the same address. What western audiences know as "predictably hilarious consequences" ensue: he strikes up a romance with the young woman living at the Leningrad apartment, to the chagrin of her boyfriend.

In the sequel, the scenario is repeated. Zhenya's son travels to St Petersburg (as it is now called) and becomes enamoured of the daughter of the woman his father fell in love with. The couple are played by Russian superstars Konstantin Khabensky and the ravishing Elizaveta Boyarskaya. Meanwhile, the three main characters from the original film - reprised by the same actors - meet again and reflect on their dashed hopes.

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of the sequel, says that even though it was not released abroad, he discovered pirate copies on sale in Los Angeles the day after its release in Moscow. "Those of my friends in the west who did see the film found it amusing, but it was difficult without the full context," he says. "For them it was more like a curious and absorbing adventure through our culture; a guide to the Russian soul, to Russian reality." Tom Parfitt


Recep Ivedik
Dir: Togan Gökbakar, 2008

He's rude, crude and prone to furious outbursts and threats of physical violence. He's also Turkey's biggest movie success story. Meet Recep Ivedik, played by the comic actor Sahan Gokbakar, a caricature of a loud-mouthed taxi driver whose lewd and uncouth behaviour has had Turks guffawing in cinema aisles. Recep Ivedik broke all previous box-office records when it was released last year. A sequel, Recep Ivekik 2, went on general release in February to great commercial success.

No one can dispute his widespread appeal, but what the Ivedik character says about Turkish culture is a different matter: many see him as a grotesque figure whose conduct reflects a general coarseness in society. Some see Ivedik as emblematic of the socially conservative forces now breaking into Turkey's previously undisturbed and refined secular middle classes. Others see him as sadly typical of an oikish character all too common among the lower classes in Istanbul.

Ivedik is intimidating in appearance. He is fat, badly dressed and has several days of stubble. He also has cartoonish eyebrows that meet in the middle. Equally striking - and as apparently hilarious - is his loutish behaviour. Ignorant of modern social conventions, he is seen in his hotel room unable to use the bathroom, peeing in flower vases and using his towel as a turban. Such traits can make him seem folksy. But he also has a rich seam of bad language, pouring out obscenities rarely before heard in Turkish entertainment.

But Turks are touched by sentiment and, accordingly, Ivedik has a soft heart. After getting involved in a fight, he rescues the wallet of a rich hotel owner and hitchhikes all the way to the southern resort of Antalya to return it. There, he glimpses his childhood sweetheart and tries to reignite a romance with her, at one point inducing her into a burping contest.

Recep Ividik contrasted sharply with its predecessor as Turkey's most successful movie. Kurtlar Vadisi Irak (Valley of the Wolves, Iraq) grossed US$25m at the Turkish box office after its 2006 release, with an excoriating condemnation of the US invasion of Iraq. Directed by Serdar Akar, it tapped into rising anti-American feeling by focusing on a notorious real-life incident: the 2003 arrest and detention of 11 Turkish special forces members by the US 173rd airborne brigade in Suleimaniyeh, northern Iraq. The event has left an enduring mark on the Turkish national psyche. Robert Tait

Them Germans do love their cowpokes: Other giant domestic hits around the world

France: Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis (2008)

Dany Boon's dorko comedy about north-coast yokels took more than €117m (£101m) in the land of Renoir, Truff aut and Bardot.

Ireland: Michael Collins (1996)

Neil Jordan's biopic of the nationalist leader remains Ireland's biggest Irish film, having taken IR£4m (£4m).

UK: Mamma Mia! (2008)

The Abba musical adaptation is our own box-office champ, having nailed down £68m in 2008, beating Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone into second place.

US: Titanic (1997)

Since release, this has taken just over $600m (£368m) in its home country – with another $1.2 bn in the rest of the world.

Australia: Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Paul Hogan's comedy about the tracker loose in New York still rules the roost with A$48m (£22m).

Germany: Manitou's Shoe (2001)

Michael Herbig's comedy western is yet to be dislodged, with a total of €65m.

India: Ghajini (2008)

A 2008 Bollywood reworking of Christopher Nolan's Memento, powered by Aamir Khan to IR1.14bn (£15m).

China: Red Cliff (2008/09)

John Woo's medieval Chinese war epic is reported to have taken $46m, with more expected from the second part this year.

Brazil: Se Eu Fosse Você 2 (2009)

Forget City of God or Central Station – Brazil's big boy, at $23m, is the sequel to the popular body-swap comedy If I Were You.

Spain: The Others (2001)

The English-language ghost story starring Nicole Kidman is just ahead of spooker The Orphanage, at €27m.

• Figures courtesy of Nielsen EDI; conversions adjusted for inflation. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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